My Camera Settings For Street Photography

My last blog post was about the camera gear I’m using for street photography. In this post I’d like to give you an overview of what my usual camera settings are.

Let me start by saying there is no right or wrong, and it all comes down to your own shooting style and preferences. These are the settings I end up using most of the time, and you may end up with your own technique or set of controls. Also, I am using a Fujifilm X100s for street photography, but this post applies to any other camera, as long as it allows for (partial) manual control.

Silent Mode

First of all, I put the camera in silent mode, which turns off all sounds, flash, and AF illuminator. When you hunt for candids, and take close-up portraits, you don’t want your subjects to realise you have taken a shot, let alone having a camera in the first place. I suggest hiding your camera as much as possible. With the Fujifilm X100s, all I need to do is press and hold the DISP/BACK button to activate (or deactivate) the camera’s silent mode.

Manual Focus

I prefer manual focus over auto focus for street photography. I pre-focus the lens to a certain distance (2m) and shoot when I am that distance to my subject. It is much faster and more accurate than shooting from the hip using autofocus. With autofocus I am more likely to end up with blurry images, due to me moving and changing distances constantly. In situations where I need to re-focus quickly, I just press AFL/AEL (focus lock/exposure) button on the back of my Fuji. In manual focus mode, it allows me to quickly auto focus on the chosen subject. Otherwise I use manual focus features such as split image and focus peaking to get my subject into focus quickly.

High Aperture

I choose shooting in higher aperture, usually around f/8. Remember, I have pre-focused my camera to a certain distance only and therefore need to get as much in focus as possible. I simply use the depth-of-field scale to have the desired object at working distance in focus. For example shooting in f/8 with the focus set to 2m, every subject in a distance from 1.5m to 3m will be in focus. This is obviously not the answer to all my focusing needs, but it is a good starting point.

In case I want a more shallow depth of field, and I want to blur the background off to isolate my main subject, I usually have to anticipate the shot and pre-focus accordingly. Most of what you see in the street are reoccurring situations; not that exact moment, but similar ones. For example, if you see two people tipping over the same garbage can, you can be sure there will be a third one. All we need is just a little patience.

Shutter Speed

Since most of my street photography is done with the camera being hand-held, I select a shutter speed of 1/125sec or faster, which freezes the moment and ensures my images to be in-focus. The rule for handheld shots is, the minimum shutter speed should be 1/xth, where x = the length of your lens. In situations where I have to set the shutter speed to 1/30 or lower, I try to lean against a wall or some other fixed object to give me extra stability.

To add some motion to my photos by panning the camera with a moving subject, I go with a shutter speed of 1/15 and lower, depending on how much blur I want.

Auto ISO

ISO is the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive it is to light. The higher the sensitivity, the more grain or ‘noise’ gets added to the picture. So the main problem with auto-ISO is that the camera may choose ISO higher than necessary, resulting in unwanted noise. Unlike shutter speed and aperture, ISO is not a creative control.

I set ISO manually in slow situation where I have control over my subject. For walk around situations with quick changes in lighting conditions, I choose auto-ISO capping it at 800.

Remember, I already control depth of field and motion manually with aperture and shutter speed. Auto-ISO gives me that little wiggle-room that allows me to adapt to different lighting conditions quickly.

Please note: The Fujifilm X100s allows you to set a min. shutter speed limit in auto-ISO modes, but otherwise have the camera choose the shutter speed automatically. It is a great feature that I use regularly.

Drive Mode

Usually you have two different drive modes to choose from. ‘Single Shot’, the default mode, which will only take one photo each time you press the shutter button, and ‘Continuous’ that will keep the camera capturing images continuously as long as you are holding down the shutter button.

For street photography I use mostly Continuous mode (3fps) while pressing the shutter button only once. This gives me 3 images of each take to choose from.

Here is the summary of my camera settings for street photography:

  • Focus Mode: Manual
  • Shutter Speed: 1/125sec or faster
  • Aperture: f/8 or f/11
  • ISO: auto, 200 – 800
  • Drive Mode: Continuous (3fps)
  • White Balance: Auto
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